There are some things we don’t realize we need to know until after we learn them. Much of our early schooling falls into this category. What we learn during those years often seems irrelevant to us. Let me give you some examples,
- You may not understand the value of algebra until you are trying to figure out how much medication a patient is supposed to get.
- You may not appreciate English until you need to write a report or manuscript.
- You may not understand the value of your history class until history once again repeats itself.
- You may not appreciate your anatomy class until you get an injury and need to understand what the Doctor is talking about.
Our text this morning may fall under one of these categories. In reading Romans 5:12-21 we may find ourselves asking, “Why is this important?” We wonder what this comparison between Jesus and Adam has to do with us.
In Romans 5:8-11 Paul tells us about the love of God that has opened the door of salvation through the work of Jesus. Christ died for the ungodly and now we are made new. The logical question after such statements is: how is this possible? How can this one man (Jesus) atone for the sin of so many people spanning many generations?
Paul explains this wonder of God by using a comparison between Jesus and Adam. If we can understand the role of Adam in life, we will be able to understand the role of Christ. So, I ask you to work with me this morning and let’s work on this difficult text.
ADAM AND CHRIST INTRODUCED
What we are about to study is what is known as the doctrine of original sin. This doctrine does not refer to the act of sin that Adam committed, it refers to the effect or consequence of that sin. In short, the doctrine teaches that as a result of Adam’s sin, every one of us was born a sinner.
Let’s follow his argument,
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
Paul states several facts. First, sin entered the world through one man. Paul believed in a literal and historic man named Adam as he is recorded in Genesis. If this Adam did not really exist, Paul’s argument falls flat. Paul asserts that before the sin of Adam in the garden, there was no such thing as sin. The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve were created perfect. There was no sin in them. They were perfect but had the ability to sin. God, for some reason that is beyond us, placed Adam and Eve in the garden where there was only one prohibition: don’t eat from the tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. We know that is the very thing they did. They chose to follow their desires rather than the Lord’s direction.
The second thing we are told is that death entered the world because of sin. God told Adam that the moment he ate from the tree he would receive a sentence of physical and spiritual death. If Adam had not sinned, we would have been immortal.
Third, we are told death came to everyone because “everyone sinned”. This is where things get a little complicated. What does the phrase “all sinned mean”? There are a couple of opinions on how to understand this phrase.
First, “all sinned” may mean that like Adam, we all die because we have sinned also. Each of us, when faced with the choice of whether to obey God or do our own thing (sin), choose to sin. There are many people who believe that each person is born “innocent”. Every person has the potential to be without sin. In fact, they believe that those who die before they commit a conscious sin, will live eternally because they are “innocent” before a holy God. I suspect many of you hold this opinion. I want to show you that this is not what Paul teaches.
The correct view, the Biblical view is that “all sinned” means, when Adam sinned, we were all made guilty because of HIS sin. At this point some people are astute enough to wonder, why is all the focus on Adam’s sin? What about Eve? Didn’t she eat from the tree first?
Eve did eat from the tree first. However, Adam’s role and position was different. He was what is called the “federal head” of the race. He represented us in the garden. When he sinned, we all sinned with Him. His action condemned the entire race.
However, don’t take my word for it, let’s look at the text. Paul says several things,
- Before the law was given, sin was in the world. God condemned Sodom and Gomorrah, he brought the flood on the land because the “intentions of their hearts were only evil all the time”.
- But, sin is not taken into account when there is no law. In other words, a person is not guilty of sin if they are not disobeying a law of God. Think about an intersection that you travel through every day. Every day you drive through the intersection. One day, a stop sign is posted. Now, if you drive through the intersection you can be ticketed and fined. Without the stop sign someone can’t say you shouldn’t drive through the intersection.
- However, these people without the law still died! It is like observing the fact that infants die even though they made no conscious choice to rebel against God. If they did not sin, why did they die? They died because they were guilty in Adam.
There is a second logical reason for us to believe that this understanding of original sin is correct. If it is not, the whole argument Paul is making doesn’t make any sense! It is precisely because of the federal headship of Jesus that the argument makes sense.
Let’s try to make it even clearer. Suppose a mother is addicted to crack cocaine. When that baby is born it is called a crack baby because it is also addicted to this drug. The addiction was not because of the child’s choice, but because of the choice of the mother.
A person with heart disease is often told that their disease is “genetic”. This means his heart problems are not due to anything that he has done . . .it is something that is passed on to him by his parents.
When Congress enacts a law, is it something that the rest of us have to obey? Of course it is (until some Judge overturns it, in which case we are bound by the ruling of a judge). We did not make the law. Perhaps we don’t even want the law. We are still however bound by that law because our Senators are duly appointed representatives of the people. They legislate on our behalf and with our authority.
In the Bible this representative idea is seen in various examples. Let me give you just one. In the book of Joshua chapter 7 the whole nation of Israel is punished because of the sin of one man, Achan.
Paul says Adam was chosen by God to be our representative. His choice set the course for all of his descendents. Adam chose sin and we all became sinners! Jesus is the “second Adam” and also serves as a representative before God.
Warren Wiersbe sums things up well,
Skeptics sometimes ask, “Was it fair for God to condemn the whole world just because of one man’s disobedience?” The answer, of course, is that it was not only fair; but it was also wise and gracious. To begin with, if God had tested each human being individually, the result would have been the same: disobedience. But even more important, by condemning the human race through one man (Adam), God was then able to save the human race through one Man (Jesus Christ)! Each of us is racially united to Adam, so that his deed affects us. But because you and I were lost in Adam, our racial head, we can be saved in Christ, the Head of the new creation. God’s plan was both gracious and wise. 
ADAM AND CHRIST CONTRASTED
Paul is not really teaching us about sin; he is teaching us about salvation! Paul contrasts what Adam did with what Jesus did. One man got us into trouble but another man, Jesus, made it possible for us to be given new life, abundant life, and eternal life.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
The first contrast is between the death (physical and spiritual) that comes as a result of Adam’s sin and the life that results because of faith in the righteous life of Christ. Notice the words Paul chooses in verse 15, “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” The gift of grace and mercy is so much greater than the sin of Adam. Adam’s sin led to death. Christ’s sinlessness led to a life that is overflowing! The word for overflow is the word that means exceeded. It is the idea of pouring something into a cup and having it flow over the top. Adam’s sin robs us of life. God’s gift through Christ fills us with overflowing (and eternal) life.
16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
In verse 16 we see a second contrast. The New Living Translation catches the essence of the text, “And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but we have the free gift of being accepted by God, even though we are guilty of many sins.“ Adam leads us to condemnation. Christ leads us to acceptance by God. Adam’s sin condemns us; Christ’s righteous (right-living) life releases us from the condemnation of Adam’s sin and our own sins.
17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:15-17)
In verse 17 the third contrast is between the bondage to sin that Adam brings us versus the new life and victory that the life of Christ makes possible. Paul says we have an “abundant” provision of grace. This could be better stated as “super-abundant provision of grace”.
ADAM AND CHRIST COMPARED
Paul sums it all up.
18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
Those who stand with Adam) face condemnation that results from sin. Those who stand with Christ will find justification (a “not guilty” verdict from God) and righteousness (a right standing before God.
The point is to present the contrast between the two ways of life. There is the bondage, condemnation, and death that come from our natural existence versus the forgiveness, acceptance, and victory that come from Christ. Paul’s intention is to present this in as stark a contrast as he can. He wants us to appreciate and cling to the salvation that God offers us.
It would be as if you said to a starving person: you can sit at one of these two tables. One table is covered with a pile of sand. The other has water, aromatic, succulent and nutritious food. The choice should be obvious. In like manner, the question is whether we will trust Christ or trust ourselves. I hope that choice is just as clear.
This is a difficult passage. As I said it is one of those passages that seems irrelevant to life and understanding . . . but it is very relevant. This passage does several things.
First, it explains the world we live in. This passage explains why people lie, cheat, kill, and victimize each other. It explains why the problem of sin is universal. We aren’t merely conditioned to be sin; we are sinners by nature. We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners! Perhaps they are best summed up in this theological masterpiece,
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the kings horses and all the kings men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
We must face this fact about ourselves, even though we resist it with every fiber of our being. We need to be reborn! We need transformation. We cannot and will not ever be able to save ourselves.
This passage also explains why the Virgin birth of Jesus was so important. We needed a Savior that was not Adam’s descendent. It explains why it was important that Jesus was tempted in every way, yet was without sin. Our second Adam, (Jesus) needed to take the road Adam did not take. He needed to choose to obey and serve the Lord.
Second, this passage should deepen our appreciation for our salvation. The better we understand our fallen condition, the greater should be our appreciation of God’s grace. If we understand how hopeless our condition was, we should rejoice all the more at the tremendous (or overflowing and super-abundant) gift of grace and mercy that is extended to us.
Third, we should be spurred on in our witnessing. There seems to be a prevailing feeling that Christians today should just keep their beliefs to themselves. Liberal lawmakers and Hollywood types spurn those who point to God’s Word as a standard of truth and to God’s Son as the only answer to the world’s problem. They object and rail against this notion of man’s inherent sinfulness. They hate the doctrine of original sin. They believe God’s standards restrict man’s progress. They are deceived.
We cannot be silent and still call ourselves compassionate. To withhold the message of the gospel is to take hope away from those who are lost. It is like witnessing a crime and refusing to testify; having a cure and being unwilling to share that cure with one who is sick; it is like holding a life preserver and refusing to throw it to one who is drowning. We cannot be silent. We must not be silent. The message of Jesus Christ is the only hope for our society.
Finally, it is my hope that these truths will help us to make wise choices in our living. Paul has much more to say on this in the weeks ahead. Those who have been set free should no longer live like slaves. People who have been granted life and victory should no longer live like those who are defeated. God is not against us! He is for all who put their hope in Christ, the second Adam. That fact should change our attitude, our choices, and the way we face the difficulties of life.
I hope, as you come to understand the message of this text, you will come to realize that this seemingly irrelevant text is actually very valuable information to have.